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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Florida’s quarterbacks further entangle against South Florida

Richardson shines while Jones offers a tale of two halves

<p>Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson on the sidelines during the Gators’ 42-20 win over South Florida on Sept. 11, 2021. Richardson was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week Monday afternoon.</p>

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson on the sidelines during the Gators’ 42-20 win over South Florida on Sept. 11, 2021. Richardson was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week Monday afternoon.

Redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson scrambled to his left with a South Florida defender closing in behind him and two more bearing down in front. He found his target, turned his body, planted his feet and rifled the ball forward less than a second before contact.

Thirty-five yards downfield, wide receiver Jacob Copeland climbed the ladder over Bulls’ cornerback TJ Robinson, snatching the ball out of the air and tapping his toes in bounds inside the USF 10 as the Florida fans in attendance broke into rambunctious cheer. 

A few plays later, on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line, UF starting quarterback Emory Jones rolled right on a bootleg and lofted the ball to freshman Nick Elksnis, but the young tight end couldn’t make the catch. Jones and his offense trudged toward the bench, the boos of their own fans showering down around them.

The two performances and their respective receptions felt symbolic of Gators fans’ thoughts about the two quarterbacks through 2021’s first two games.

The previous Florida drive ended with a Jones interception, his second of the day and the redshirt junior’s fourth pick of the season after he threw one the previous three years. The Georgia native connected for only two touchdowns in the first two games, averaged 5.39 yards per attempt, and managed a passing efficiency of 63.46, 117th in the country. 

Richardson, meanwhile, has thrown no interceptions, equaled Jones’ two passing touchdowns on 38 less attempts and more than doubled his elder’s passing rating according to FloridaGators.com (261.16 to 105.67). The freshman also leads the team with 275 rushing yards, 120 more than the next leading rusher, Jones.

The young quarterback set the Gators offense ablaze against South Florida from his opening snap. On his first play from scrimmage, he faked a handoff to running back Nay’Quan Wright before unleashing a deep ball to Copeland for a 75-yard touchdown, one of his three scores longer than 70 yards this season.

“He does special things,” head coach Dan Mullen said about Richardson. “Doesn’t always do the right thing, but he does special things.”

Mullen expanded on his thoughts and the responsibilities of quarterbacks on the field beyond visible performance.

“There’s a lot of things you’ve got to read,” Mullen said. “There’s a lot that the quarterback has to do, a lot of different reads that are out there on the field, so it makes sense...It’s a long season, and we have young quarterbacks that I’ve got to continue to grow and continue to develop.”

The fourth-year coach made a similar statement during a media session on Sept. 6 when he highlighted how Jones optioned to the correct play against Florida Atlantic, which led to a touchdown.

Mullen again doubled down on Jones leading the team under center, adding both he and Richarson will play in every game. He refuted the idea that loyalty, seniority or experience plays into his decisions for who starts, however.

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“My responsibility is to put everybody on the team in position to win,” Mullen said.

With No. 1 Alabama coming to town and Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban’s vaunted defense in tow, Jones and Richardson face their toughest test yet on Sept. 18. The defending national champions allowed 13.5 points per game in their first two contests, including 13 points to the then-No. 14 Miami Hurricanes on Sept. 4, and hauled in more interceptions (4) than passing touchdowns surrendered (3). 

Florida and Alabama kick off at 3:30 p.m. at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Sept. 18.

Contact Ryan Haley at rhaley@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley.

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Ryan Haley

Ryan Haley, a UF journalism senior with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida, is Summer 2022's Engagement Managing Editor. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.

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